Director Robert Kelley has done it again; a superb job of bringing the classic “Little Women” by Allan Knee, based on the original novel by Louisa May Alcott, on stage at www.theatreworks.org . This classic tale of four sisters is brought on stage in the form of a musical, with lovely lyrics by Mindi Dickstein and music by Jason Howland, under musical director, William Liberatore. It is playing in Palo Alto, at Lucie Stern Theater, until January 4, 2014. The play is set in 1868, during the time of the civil war, in New England. Costume Design befitting the period is beautiful and the credit goes to Fumiko Bielefeldt and creative scenic design is by Joe Ragey.
Alcott wrote the novel “Little Women”, based on familiar references from her own life. In the play, the father of four girls (the March sisters), is away, fighting in the war, leaving their mother, Marmee, (beautifully played by Elizabeth Ward Land) to run the household full of four young women. Emily Koch is absolutely stupendous as Jo the second sister, an aspiring writer, who is feisty, a non conformist, loves books, and spurns traditions. Jo has a hard time getting her book published and is told to come up with a “better” plot. The play opens with a musical about her book and she asks “better than what, better than this dazzling plot?” In an era when women were to do as they were bid, Jo reaches high, and she is confident, she will attain what she is reaching for.
While Jo finds solace in her writing, her younger sister Amy (superbly played by Arielle Fishman) is both jealous of Jo and desirous of what may be within Jo’s reach. Amy is vivacious and full of life. When Jo and eldest sister Meg are invited to their first Ball, Amy is so jealous that she burns to ashes, Jo’s half written novel. Jo sings “I will never fall asleep again” and it falls on Marmee to make peace between the two sisters. Sharon Rietkerk plays the oldest sister, Meg, who is the family beauty, is simple, sweet and easily falls in love with John Brooke (played by Justin Buchs), and Julia Belanoff does a fabulous job as Beth, the youngest sister who is sweet, sensible, satisfied with her herself and sadly succumbs to an illness.
Little Women is a story of the four sisters, growing up, finding love, rejecting love, supporting one another through life’s trials and tribulations, getting beaten down by life’s struggles, overcoming them, attaining their dreams, and holding the family together by a tie that binds. Matt Dengler (as Laurie, grandson of the March family’s neighbor), Richard Farrell (as the old and crusty neighbor with a soft heart), Justin Buchs (as Laurie’s tutor), and Christopher Vettel (as Jo’s professor) have played their roles nicely and they add the right touch of yang to the yin of the March women. I love the cast in this play and Elizabeth Palmer as stern Aunt March is also wonderful.
But it is fantastic Emily Koch as Jo, whose performance makes this a show to remember. There are many warm, funny, sweet moments in the play that the sisters enjoy. And yet, in the end, it is the heartbreak that ignites Jo to write a novel that brings her recognition and fame, and it is her writing that helps her overcome the heartbreak, and adapt to the changing family.
This is a beautiful not-to-miss play of the season, to start off the holidays filled with family celebrations. The opening night performance was completely sold out and the audience gave a standing ovation. Book your tickets early at http://www.theatreworks.org .